International, interconnected, innovative
Dr Alex Hiller is head of Postgraduate and Executive Education at Nottingham Business School, including strategic and operational responsibility for Master’s programmes. He has almost 20 years’ experience of teaching and leading in graduate management education, following an earlier career in marketing consultancy. His teaching and research interests centre around marketing ethics and consumer behaviour, and he has a strong interest in experiential and applied learning.
What is the added value of a Master’s degree programme in a world so dynamic that constant upskilling is already a must for career growth? Why should students invest a year or two in graduate school instead of gaining the skills in short certificate programmes or online courses?
It is true that constant upskilling is increasingly important in career development. However, there are three key reasons I think that investment in a Master’s programme is worthwhile. Firstly, there is the experience of undertaking the programme itself. The keyword is “upskilling” and Master’s degrees tend to contain a significant focus on the development of skills as well as on the accumulation of knowledge and the ability to think critically. The opportunity to develop these skills is not always present in shorter programmes. Likewise, the networks that are important for students to develop are much more likely to be created in a longer immersive programme.
Secondly, Master’s programmes offer a cohesive curriculum, carefully designed to develop well-rounded graduates who have a critical appreciation of the relevant knowledge put together by experts in the field, combined with the skills which are required by employers. This can be difficult to achieve through consuming a smorgasbord of discrete short programmes.
Thirdly, there is the credibility that a recognised programme from a reputable school can bring to a candidate operating in a crowded graduate jobs market. I think it is important to recognise that a good Master’s programme will indeed inculcate an appreciation of the importance of lifelong learning and continuing professional development.
Predictions are that people will be changing jobs much more often in the future, but also new types of jobs will appear. In this case, how many times should professionals go back to school in their lifetime? You have been back to school at least five times so far.
That is true, and I think the short answer is that professionals should go back to school as many times as is necessary for their career development. In my case, I undertook the qualifications that were necessary for me to pursue my career goals and develop the skills and experience that I wanted to have at particular points in my career.
If we look at the post-experience students that we have in our school, many have come back to study MBAs or executive programmes either because they want to accelerate their management development or they want to shift careers into new functional areas or industry sectors. Formal programmes such as MScs or MBAs have their role to play here alongside professional qualifications, short courses and other training.
The key is to recognise the importance of lifelong learning, to know what your career goals are, to be able to undertake a personal skills audit against those goals, and to identify relevant education and development. We aim to develop these skills in our students from the beginning of their programme.
What are the benefits of studying in an international environment – abroad or locally in an international classroom?
There are three key benefits, but overarching these benefits is the need for graduates to work in an interconnected global economy in which the ability to communicate interculturally and understand how to manage across national borders is critical.
So, under this overarching need, firstly there is the benefit of being able to share experiences and perspectives within a culturally diverse cohort and develop an international network. The second benefit is developing skills in intercultural communication in the classroom. Thirdly, and really importantly, there are the benefits from developing an openness to and appreciation of the world and the development of understanding and empathy with those from different cultures.
How has international graduate education transformed since 2020? How can students experience diverse culture in online or blended programmes?
The first thing to note is that online and blended programmes existed before 2020 and that student choice in modes of study that meet their individual needs is an important feature of graduate education in 2021. Of course, Covid-19 has forced all business schools to offer more blended approaches.
However, this does not necessarily mean that cultural experience is diminished. For example, if you take our experience with our online MBA programme, which features students from 42 different countries who collaborate with each other in online social spaces and discussion forums, these participants cite repeatedly that one of the major benefits of the programme is the ability to interact with others from different cultural perspectives, creating a global knowledge pool from which they can draw expertise, even though this is mainly done online.
Where can students find really immersive international education in 2021? Should they consider international programmes locally, study abroad, or short-term exchange programmes? In the new circumstances, what will be most feasible and enriching in terms of gaining the intercultural exposure and maturity valued by employers?
The reality is that many of the international opportunities that usually exist may not be available in the near future, although many institutions are still offering study abroad and exchange programmes. However, what we have seen is some real innovation in this area. For example, we have worked with partner schools to continue to offer immersive cultural experiences despite restrictions on travel. These have included global consultancy projects conducted through virtual means, virtual city tours, online lectures from international faculty, participation in virtual business competitions, online global careers fairs, and many more.
UK universities have to mitigate two major challenges in terms of international education – the effects of the pandemic on international students and the effects of Brexit on EU students. How are UK universities going to keep the reputation of a top study destination?
All business schools globally are dealing with the effects of the pandemic so that is not unique to the UK. I think it is important to note that UK schools generally, and our school in particular, have adapted their teaching and learning to offer the same high-quality educational experience whilst delivering that experience in a Covid-secure way. We have a long history in developing and delivering innovative, quality education and that remains as true during the pandemic as at any other time.
With regard to Brexit, I am sure many in the sector have their personal opinions on this. Whatever happens, we will retain our commitment to delivering an international business education which recognises and values global diversity and the relationships and partnerships with all of our students and alumni, corporate connections, and partner institutions within Europe and across the world. UK universities have enjoyed a leading global reputation for hundreds of years spanning all kinds of political change, and I am confident they will continue to do so.